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Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal is the President of IBSystems, the parent company of, MCADCafe, EDACafe.Com, GISCafe.Com, and ShareCG.Com.

Urban Food Production in Chicago, Illinois by Atelier Zündel & Cristea

January 19th, 2012 by Sanjay Gangal

Article source: Atelier Zündel & Cristea


The socio-cultural development of the past century has compromised the notion of “progress”. Deforestation, topsoil depletion, excesses of industrial and financial globalisation, biodiversity loss and incessant pressures of population growth on the planet’s limited resources have placed the human being in a condition of rupture with his ecological role as species.


Images Courtesy Atelier Zündel Cristea

  • Architect: Atelier Zündel & Cristea
  • Name of Project: Urban Food Production
  • Location: Chicago, Illinois
  • Competition: 2010
  • Client: Terreform
  • Consultants: Batiserf
  • Project: Parkings, food production, dwellings…
  • Photo credit: Atelier Zündel Cristea

Over the past fifty years, on a planetary scale, the development of cities has been based on an increasingly subjective approach, systematically redirecting efforts away from the progressive and morally-oriented programs of Modernism. (We are thinking here most notably of the modern era’s “balanced” and “functional” city composed of domesticity, work, leisure, and transportation infrastructure.)


Images Courtesy Atelier Zündel Cristea


American culture is city-based.

The urban landscape (with clustered skyscrapers) plays a leading role in its collective imagination. A majority of Americans today live in cities. In absolute numbers, the United States actually has the world’s third largest urban population. More than thirty percent of Americans live in cities of more than five million inhabitants. These urban centers represent a formidable force on national and global economics.

The contemporary condition of the American city is marked by singular aspects of its history. The democratization of car-ownership is one of these. Along with tramways and railways, the car carried the middle class family out from the city center. A strong sense of individualism and declining American industry contributed to an expanding flight from the urban core.


Images Courtesy Atelier Zündel Cristea

Aided by the development of the highway system, the spreading realization of an American dream of homeownership (with lawn) accelerated the processes of flight and its twin phenomenon, sprawl. As the image of the city-center deteriorated in the eyes of a newly suburban American middle-class, the downtowns recomposed into concentrations of immigrant and poor populations.

Urban sprawl continues today to pose important problems: misappropriation of natural settings, disappearance of rural spaces, atmospheric pollution from car emissions, saturation and blockage of roadways during rush hours, diminished commercial and cultural activity in city centers reduced to their administrative and political functions…


Images Courtesy Atelier Zündel Cristea


After decades of thinking of the city as gridded and mineral-based, dedicated to the car and the service sector, to efficiency and to “progress”, today urban societies find themselves at the center of an interesting shift : one transforming the values of economy into the values of ecology. The acceptance of ecological values requires urban projects to amplify the natural qualities of life’s settings.

Projects will tend to be measured by their ability to account for:

– the availability of energy and of life’s essential elements

– the permanent recycling of mineral and organic elements

– the variation, distribution and abundance of species present

– the relations between natural processes, biophysical and human conditions

– the production of terrestrial biomass in the diversity of vital activities

– the interdependencies of energy, food and environment


Images Courtesy Atelier Zündel Cristea

In this way, “economic possibility” evolves into “ecological necessity”. The urban landscape, over-programmed and saturated by symbols, devoted to the visible and the visual, opens into a new space, in flux and not yet determined : a reformed humanist landscape.

Our planning and architectural languages will, from here on, account for these changes. New projects will need to demonstrate a superior flexibility in order to stretch wide between form and usage. A new urbanism will have biological and climactic objectives. It will benefit from advanced studies on complex natural and vital systems to help reorganize failed urban territories.

Planning tools will include control of sunlight, air purity, humidity and temperature. Meteorology will re-find its place (lost decades ago) in human activities. More and more municipalities will adopt precepts of a new urbanism: the return to dense pedestrian-friendly housing around historic centers. (The recent sub prime crisis has seen single-family exurban houses levelled in recognition of the failure of the strategies of sprawl.)

Planning projects can no longer be satisfied with the creation of “forms and spaces” but must now concern themselves with the relations between natural processes and human activities.




Let’s take the example of Chicago: a port, commercial and educational city of 8.7 million inhabitants (2009). Under the guidelines of the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, the city has fixed targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Its approach will include the development of electric-powered vehicles, bike paths and mass transit. Community gardens are already multiplying there; 500,000 trees have been planted since 1989.

As architects, our interest is in Chicago’s abandoned neighbourhoods rather than in its established historic core. Traditional urbanism has conferred a rigid and uniform character to the center. We prefer to position our proposal in the open spaces where new political and social relations can be invented.



The developmental potential in neighbourhoods of parking lots and warehouses is found in their current low-density construction. Here, it is still possible to escape the forces of normalisation in order to restore a sense of urban diversity, inspired by the interdependence of energy availability, food resources, and the environment.

Our new urbanism uses sun lighting to reintroduce a balance between producing and consuming. The projects’ biotopes occupy residual spaces having remained free within the urban grid. The biotopes are created from the recycled mineral waste of the city itself: demolitions, conversions, the detritus of household and industrial consumption…



The transformation and permanent recycling of mineral and organic elements produced by human activity are disposed in Whirls! giving birth to an urban geography of public utility. The infill of these structures – layers of fertile soil planted with vegetable gardens – can modify the microclimate, transform immediate urban biophysical conditions and influence the tenor of human relations within the public spaces created.


These city garden Whirls! can function for agricultural production and subsequent transformation into foodstuffs: restaurants, school canteens, bottling, filling or cannery sites…They encourage the promotion of a collective consciousness around notions of cooking and table arts, environmental respect, and the solidarity of nourishment. Crowned with city wind turbines and physically close to end-users, the Whirls! form a new city landscape in opposition to certain degrading effects of industrialisation and the standardisations of fast-food culture.



It is probably a delusion to imagine that environmentally harmful economic activity will be transformed by consensual “mass abstinence”. The current “green consciousness” and “environmental guilt” have yet to produce significant change in “life as usual” attitudes. If the answer to destructive consumerism will not be found in moralising abstinence, maybe it can be teased out in forms of green hedonism. Whirl !





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Category: Mixed use

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